This is the year when the tipping point in the globalisation of retail has been reached. This is the year when a uniquely American shopping event has caught the imagination of the world. I’m referring to Black Friday and its online counterpart Cyber Monday.
On the fourth Thursday in November, Americans stuff themselves with turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving. The next day, they stuff their shopping bags with bargains on what has come to be called Black Friday. No one really knows how the event originally got its name. In the early 60’s, the Philadelphia police were said to have coined the term Black Friday due to the level of retail traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular) on that day. In the 80’s, the story changed and the enduring popular myth emerged that Black Friday was the day when the red ink stopped flowing for retailers and they started turning a profit.
Black Friday is the start of the run to Christmas for American retailers, and it has expanded to an entire shopping festival – Grey Thursday (unofficially – because sales from Black Friday have edged well into Thanksgiving), Black Friday proper, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday (a new innovation to encourage shoppers to give to charity).
And now the concept has spread across the globe. In the UK, Amazon and Apple have encouraged the introduction of Black Friday and Cyber Monday since 2010. It’s staged a week later than the US and has been met with a huge amount of enthusiasm. Even the venerable British department store John Lewis has jumped on the bandwagon, with Black Friday technology sales up 31.5% year on year. The UK’s Cyber Monday on December 3rd was the biggest online shopping day in history in that country – with 112 million visits to retail sites, up 32% from a year ago.
Canada and Brazil have also started to stage Black Friday promotions. As the Financial Times reported this year; “hundreds of Brazil’s biggest shops offered huge discounts, national newspapers were plastered with deals, the country’s biggest airline reduced prices by up to 90 percent and ‘Black Friday’ was trending all day on Twitter as the frenzy spread”.
In Australia, we’ve developed our own local versions of the events. “Click Frenzy” on November 20th was our Cyber Monday, and Westfield’s “Super Saturday” on December 1st was the local Black Friday. (The shift in the shopping calendar makes perfect sense to me. Last December I wrote an article called “Our selling season is our silly season” – http://www.insideretailing.com.au/IR/IRNews/3552.aspx – which put forward the idea that Boxing Day sales were poorly placed in the retail calendar, and that what Aussie retailers needed was a kick-off to Christmas, rather than a clearance after December 25th).
Of course, thanks to the Internet, shoppers all over the world are now taking part in America’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In an article entitled “America’s Black Friday Frenzy Goes Global”, Fox News observed that online spending among international consumers went up 300% on Black Friday weekend compared with an average day, and that the number of international shoppers scooping up the deals doubled from 2011.
Canadian shoppers were most enthusiastic, making up 31% of international Black Friday sales in the US, but Aussies weren’t that far behind at 19%. The UK, Russia and Hong Kong were also in the top five. According to FiftyOne Global E-Commerce CEO Michael DeSimone, “it’s a globalisation of American culture – retailers are training international shoppers to shop on an American pattern”.
Expect Christmas 2013 to line up even more strongly with Black Friday and Cyber Monday right around the world…and in Australia too. (Although we probably won’t use the term “Black Friday”, because of its bushfire connotations.) And over the next few years, I believe we’ll see the relative decline of the Boxing Day sales as a major retail event in Australia and Commonwealth countries across the globe.
For Australian retailers, it’s yet another sign that we need to think and benchmark globally. As Howard Goldberg, the ex-CEO of Country Road said to me earlier this year, “the world is one shop”.